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Collectibles: Off the Wall
At the annual Swann Galleries auction, collectors snapped up vintage ski posters of both classic and unique design.
The annual sale of vintage ski and winter posters at Swann Auction Galleries in New York City on February 13, 2020 featured 30 posters, including a handful of American classics, a celebrated Swiss ski poster, and some striking examples of midcentury graphic design.
One exceptional example of graphic design on offer was Johan Bull’s window card For Norges Deltagelse | De Olympiske Ski from 1932 (shown above). Measuring just 22 x 14 inches, this was a promotion piece for the Norwegian American Olympic Committee seeking contributions to help send Norwegian athletes to Lake Placid in 1932.
“It’s one of the really unusual pieces we have,” said Nicholas Lowry, president of Swann Auction Galleries, head of the gallery’s poster division and a familiar appraiser on PBS’ Antiques Roadshow. “It mentions the 1924 games in Chamonix and the 1928 games in St. Moritz. The team was preparing for the 1932 games in Lake Placid and that’s followed by a question mark. It’s super simple. “
This powerful and effective image depicts a lone, faceless ski jumper, and the artist reduced his palette to black, orange and white on beige paper stock. Bull, who was born in Oslo, moved to America in 1925 and began contributing cartoons to The New Yorker. The poster soared past its $1,000 top estimate and sold for $1,690 (including the buyer’s premium, which is 25 percent of the hammer price).
A classic poster on view at Swann work was by the Swiss artist Alex Walter Diggelmann. His Andermatt / Gotthard from 1931 has a simple yet compelling design. It makes plain that this resort at the Gotthard Pass is covered in exceptionally deep snowfall — enough, in fact, to almost hide the road sign. A skier’s tracks go past the sign to drive the point home. Estimated between $1,500 to $2,000, it sold for $1,820.
Another brilliant bit of design was featured in artist José Morell’s España, a 1948 poster celebrating the joys of skiing in the Pyrenees. Published by the Madrid Tourist Office, the estimate was $1,000 to $1,500 and it realized a final price of $1,375.
“We first sold this poster many years ago,” said Lowry. “Talk about suggestive. All you see are the skis, the shadow of the skier and the group of other skiers watching intently. You get the idea that he’s clearly moving fast.”
Knut Yran’s famous image, Norway / The Cradle of Ski-ing, from 1955, sold for $1,430, just shy of its top estimate. It depicts a child in a cradle on the slopes, clasping a pair of ski poles. A pair of skis is sticking upright from the crib, ready for action, with the mountains behind the child. This particular variation has the added text, “Enjoy Your Trip, Go by Ship/ Norwegian American Line,” though Lowry added that “we’ve seen it overprinted with the Pan Am logo before.”
Edwin Hermann Richard Henel was a designer of early German ski posters at the turn of the century but the poster on sale at Swann was done in 1950, just three years before he died. In Garmisch-Partenkirchen / VI. Internationale Wintersportwoche the international winter sports week is suggested by two ski poles, a goalie’s stick, and a photomontage of skating pairs set against a mountain backdrop. This was the first time that the poster has appeared at Swann. The poster was printed just five years after World War II had ended, a time when the ski town was better known as an R&R getaway for the occupation forces of American G.I.s, many of whom learned to ski at this resort. It went for $1,063, a bit lower than its top estimate.
The exuberant female skier in the legendary designer Herbert Leupin’s Switzerland from 1939 is wearing a blouse illustrating the various Swiss winter pastimes, from skiing to ice hockey to skijoring. It sold for $500, less than its $700 low bid.
“That shirt is like a poster in itself,” said Lowry. “It’s priced lower because someone trimmed off the title. But it’s a great image. If someone came to me with a bolt of cloth with that design on it, I’d buy it in a heartbeat.”
A classic Olympic poster was Jack Galliano’s VIII Olympic Winter Games / Squaw Valley, Feb 18—28, 1960, the second of two official posters designed for the Squaw Valley Winter Olympic Games. The first poster was issued before the exact dates of the games were determined. This second poster appeared late in 1959 with the purpose of showing the location of Squaw Valley in relation to a map of the United States and giving the date of the Games. It was eventually printed in five different languages. Estimated between $1,200 and $1,800, it sold for $1,750.
There were three ski posters by the German-born designer Sascha Maurer, best known for his work for New England ski resorts and ski manufacturers.
“I hate to use the words ‘quite common’ with these Maurer posters because it makes them sound cheap,” said Lowry. “They are not rare, but they are among the best American ski posters.”
Maurer’s Ski Stowe Vermont / Ski Capital of the East exceeded its $1,800 top estimate to sell for $2,125. “Maurer designed the Stowe logo, the ‘swoosh’” said Lowry.
Maurer’s Flexible Flyer Splitkein / Smuggler’s Notch was also issued in 1935. It depicts a woman in a single chair on the lift, waving to two skiers below, who have left fresh tracks in the snow. The poster hit its top estimate of $3,000.
“This one appears with different overprintings as well,” said Lowry. “Some of the variations were used by small ski areas, small sporting goods stores and in some cases, even restaurants and hotels.”
An artist named W. Rivers was responsible for the strong silkscreen of Yosemite Ski School, an undated image which sold for $1,750, just shy of its top estimate. Designed for the Badger Pass Ski Area, which opened in 1928, it’s very simple with two colors, red and blue and the white of the paper.
A poster by the famed Dwight Clark Shepler, Sun Valley / Union Pacific, was estimated to sell between $8,000 and $12,000 and finished at $10,625. “Shepler designed some of the Dartmouth Winter Carnival posters and others for Sun Valley,” said Lowry. “It’s a wonderful image, graphic and painterly at the same time.”
While the American posters tended to do very well, the erstwhile star of the auction was Winter in Der Schweiz, a masterpiece by the celebrated Swiss graphic artist Emil Cardinaux from 1921. This was the German version of a poster best known in its French version as Sports d’Hiver. The location is not specified but given the mountains, the lake, the high society fashions and the date, it is almost certainly St. Moritz. A work that verges on painterly, this masterful poster was estimated to sell between $12,000 and $18,000 but it failed to meet its reserve price and went unsold. Such is the way of the auction world. For information on upcoming auctions, go to swanngalleries.com.
A frequent contributor to Skiing History, Everett Potter launched Everett Potter’s Travel Report in 2005. It has become one of the most widely read and respected digital sites in the industry. Explore the site at everettpotter.com. All images courtesy Swann Auction Galleries.
Table of Contents
2020 Corporate Sponsors
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Race Place | BEAST Tuning Tools
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Hotronic USA, Inc. | Wintersteiger
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Portland Woolen Mills
Russell Mace Vacation Homes
Schoeller Textile USA
Snow Time, Inc.
Sports Specialists, LTD
Tecnica Group USA
Timberline Lodge & Ski Area
Trapp Family Lodge
Western Winter Sports Reps Association
World Pro Ski Tour
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